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Paul Livingston

Wittgenstein, Kant and the

critique of totality

Abstract In this paper, I explore Wittgensteins inheritance of one specific

strand of Kants criticism, in the Critique of Pure Reason, of reasons
inherent pretensions to totality. This exploration reveals new critical possi-
bilities in Wittgensteins own philosophical method, challenging existing
interpretations of Wittgensteins political thought as conservative and
exhibiting the closeness of its connection to another inheritor of Kants
critique of totality, the Frankfurt Schools criticism of identity thinking
and the reification of reason to which it leads. Additionally, it shows how
Wittgensteins linguistic philosophy offers to challenge and undermine, in
a historically novel way, the metaphysical assumptions underlying some of
our most characteristic and ubiquitous social practices.
Key words Theodor Adorno identity Immanuel Kant Karl Marx
practices reification totality Ludwig Wittgenstein

One of the most central and familiar elements of Wittgensteins later

philosophy is his call to replace the traditional inquiries of philosophy
with investigation into the use [Gebrauch] of words in their various
practical connections and surroundings, linguistic and non-linguistic.1
Again and again, Wittgenstein counsels his readers to abandon the
search for deep or esoteric inquiries into the nature of things, in favor
of reminders of the ways we actually employ language in the vast variety
of contexts and situations that comprise a human life. These reminders
have suggested to many interpreters that Wittgenstein can be understood
as replacing traditional categories of thought and language with terms
drawn from, or contributing to, the social theory of intersubjective prac-
tices. Since he wrote, Wittgensteins invocation of use has accordingly
made way for a series of projects, within analytic philosophy, that fore-
ground the relationship of linguistic meaning to ordinary intersubjective

PHILOSOPHY & SOCIAL CRITICISM vol 33 no 6 pp. 691715

Copyright 2007 SAGE Publications (Los Angeles, London, New Delhi and Singapore)
and David Rasmussen DOI: 10.1177/0191453707080582
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
praxis. But despite the familiarity and widespread influence of Wittgen-
steins appeal to use, I argue in this article, this appeal has a critical signifi-
cance that commentators have often missed. What has been missed in
projects that construe Wittgenstein as offering a theory of meaning as
grounded in social practice, in fact, is a far-ranging critique of totality
that runs through Wittgensteins work, early and late, and actually under-
mines both the possibility of positive theorizing about typical social prac-
tices and the elements of metaphysical thinking that often support them.
Constantly directing his readers to recall the use of a word, Wittgen-
stein nevertheless just as constantly resists the natural temptation to
think of this use as an object, a unity or a whole, accessible to a compre-
hensive, theoretical understanding of practice or enclosable within a set
of binding rules. In this way, his practice of linguistic criticism works
to undermine the totalizing assumptions behind not only what he some-
times calls the metaphysical picture of a rule but also the concrete
technological and material practices that this picture often supports.
Wittgensteins philosophical method, in fact, challenges just those
features of thought that Adorno characterized as identity thinking, and
joins the tradition of critical theory in its criticism of the totalizing
assumptions that underlie it. Seeing this connection a connection ulti-
mately rooted in the common Kantian heritage that Wittgensteins project
shares with the project of critical theory can help us to understand the
political significance of Wittgensteins investigations of language in a
new way, and suggests far-ranging implications for the method of philo-
sophical reflection they embody.

It is a familiar point that one aim of Kants Critique of Pure Reason,

particularly in the Transcendental Dialectic, is to exhibit the funda-
mental incompleteness of human thought. This incompleteness is, for
Kant, a consequence of the operation of the very principles of reason
itself, of the inevitability of its own critical questioning, in accordance
with these principles, of its own scope and limits. What Kant, in the
Dialectic, calls transcendental illusion results from our tendency to
misunderstand the principles of reason, construing these actually subjec-
tive rules as if they were objective principles really governing things in
the world. The misunderstanding results from reasons inherent function,
to synthesize the principles of the understanding into a higher unity.2
It does so by means of inference, striving to reduce the variety of prin-
ciples of the understanding [Grundsatze] under the unity of a small
number of inferential principles of reason [Prinzipien].3 But in so doing,
reason also creates the problematic pure concepts or transcendental
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
ideas (A 321/B 378) that stand in no direct relationship to any given
The transcendental ideas arise from reasons synthesis by means of
inference, in particular, when this process of synthesis is thought of as
complete.4 According to Kant, in seeking to unify knowledge under
higher inferential principles, reason seeks the condition for any given
conditioned, leading it ultimately to seek totality in the series of conditions
leading to any particular phenomenon:
Accordingly, in the conclusion of a syllogism we restrict a predicate to a
certain object, after having first thought it in the major premiss in its whole
extension under a given condition. This complete quantity of the extension
in relation to such a condition is called universality (universalitas). In the
synthesis of intuitions we have corresponding to this the allness (universitas)
or totality of the conditions. The transcendental concept of reason is, there-
fore, none other than the concept of the totality of the conditions for any
given conditioned. (A 322/B 3789)

The search for totality, Kant explains, takes three forms, corresponding
to the three kinds of inference through which reason can arrive at knowl-
edge by means of principles.5 These three forms furnish the rational ideas
of soul, world and God that are the objects of transcendental dialectic.
In each case, however, the transcendental critique will show that the
pretension of these ideas to furnish to knowledge objects corresponding
to them is unfounded. Whatever the subjective validity of the ideas of
reason in instructing us to pursue the search for ever-greater unification,
the attempt to provide objects of knowledge corresponding to the total
synthesis of conditions cannot succeed.
Accordingly, one upshot of the Kantian critique of the totalizing
ideas of reason, significant for the critical projects that would descend
from it, is that the work of reason in synthesizing knowledge is, for
Kant, radically incomplete. The critique of transcendental illusion opens
an irreducible gulf between the sphere of possible knowledge and the
satisfaction of reasons own demands, disrupting every attempt or
pretense to present the work of reason as complete or completable. As
John Sallis (1980) has argued, the Kantian critique of totality thus
reveals the impossibility of any final repair of the fragmentation that
is characteristic of finite knowledge. By contrast with the unifying power
of the deduction of the categories in the Transcendental Analytic, which
succeeds in gathering the manifold of intuition into unities under the
categories of the understanding, the gathering of reason attempted in
the Transcendental Dialectic ultimately fails:
Thus, in each of the gatherings of reason, critique exhibits a radical non-
correspondence between the two moments that belong to the structure of
the gathering, between the unity posited by reason and the actual gathering
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
of the manifold into this unity. It shows that in every case the actual gather-
ing of the manifold falls short of the unity into which reason would gather
that manifold. An inversion is thus prepared: With respect to its outcome
the gathering of reason is precisely the inverse of that gathering of pure
understanding that is measured in the Transcendental Analytic. Whereas
the gathering of reason culminates in the installation of radical difference
between its moments, the gathering of understanding issues in identity,
unity, fulfillment. (1980: 1545)
Whereas the categories in the Analytic result in a gathering of the repre-
sentations of the intuition into a unity that is stable and uncontestable,
the gathering of reason fails to result in a unity of knowledge, instead
installing a radical heterogeneity or difference, at the heart of reasons
work, between its actual attainments and its own irrepressible demands.
The line of critique, stably drawn in the Analytic between the field of
possible contents of experience and that which transcends this field,
accordingly becomes destabilized. The work of reasons self-critique
becomes a practically endless dialogue, an ever-renewed questioning of
the claims of positive knowledge and a critical interrogation of its
intrinsic claims to totality. The line that critique draws between truth
and illusion becomes, rather than a stable line between two fields of
definable contents, the unstable and constantly shifting line of reasons
rediscovered finitude in the face of its infinite aims.
Kants installation of radical difference and essential unsatisfiability
in reasons own work proves essential, moreover, to the ability of critical
practice to disrupt the totalizing claims of instrumentalized and reified
conceptions of reason. In his lectures on Kants Critique of Pure Reason,
Adorno suggests that this moment of Kantian critique is in fact the source
of critiques power to break up the hegemony of identity thinking:
On the one hand, we think of the Critique of Pure Reason as a kind of
identity-thinking. This means that it wishes to reduce the synthetic a priori
judgments and ultimately all organized experience, all objectively valid
experience, to an analysis of the consciousness of the subject. . . . On the
other hand, however, this way of thinking desires to rid itself of mythol-
ogy, of the illusion that man can make certain ideas absolute and hold them
to be the whole truth simply because he happens to have them within
himself. In this sense Kantian philosophy is one that enshrines the validity
of the non-identical in the most emphatic way possible. It is a mode of
thought that is not satisfied by reducing everything that exists to itself.
Instead, it regards the idea that all knowledge is contained in mankind as
a superstition and, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, it wishes to criticize
it as it would criticize any superstition. . . .
Now the greatness of the Critique of Pure Reason is that these two
motifs clash. To give a stark description we might say that the book
contains an identity philosophy that is, a philosophy that attempts to
ground being in the subject and also a non-identity philosophy one that
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
attempts to restrict that claim to identity by insisting on the obstacles, the
block, encountered by the subject in its search for knowledge. And you can
see the double nature of Kants philosophy in the dual organization of the
Critique of Pure Reason. (1959: 66)
According to Adorno, Kants thinking is implicitly totalizing in its
attempt with one of its voices to reduce all knowledge to a unity of
categories or a priori representations, to delimit the sphere of possible
knowledge to the closed field of transcendental subjectivity, excluding
all that lies outside this field. But at the same time, as Adorno notes,
Kants recognition of the essential incompleteness of reasons work
inscribes non-identity and the possibility of radical difference within the
project of critique, disrupting every totalizing claim to reduce knowledge
to a stable unity. According to Adorno, it is this recognition of non-
identity that makes Kantian critique enduringly relevant for the criti-
cism of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment patterns of rationality.
In particular, the recognition of an essential limitation and incomplete-
ness of identity-thinking allows its pretensions of unity and totality to
be criticized and dismissed in a continuous and ever-renewed movement
of critique. Dialectics, Adorno says in Negative Dialectics, is the
consistent sense of nonidentity. Kants early recognition of this provides
both the source and the enduring model for critical theorys continued
application of dialectical critique to prevailing norms and regimes of
social behavior.


Standard interpretations of the critical element of Wittgensteins philo-

sophy often present his intention as one of drawing or articulating a line
between meaningful language and nonsense. Thus, for instance, in his
classic discussion of the Tractatus, Maslow suggests reading it as a kind
of Kantian phenomenalism, with the forms of language playing a role
similar to Kants transcendental apparatus. This interpretation, Maslow
says, involves seeing language not only [as] an instrument of thought
and communication but also [as] an all-pervading factor in organizing
our cognitive experience (1961: xiv); the task of Wittgensteins critical
philosophy is, according to Maslow, thus to establish the nature of this
factor and mark its necessary bounds. In a similar vein, Pears (1970)
suggests understanding Wittgensteins thought as a whole as inspired by
the Kantian desire to understand the forms of language in order to
deflate the pretensions of philosophy to go beyond them.6 According to
this interpretation, the critical purpose of the Tractatus is to investigate
the logic of language in order to pave the way for a rejection of nonsense.
Once the logical conditions for the possibility of meaning are clearly
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
understood, it will be possible clearly to distinguish utterances that
satisfy these conditions from those that do not. This distinction will
provide the Wittgensteinian linguistic philosopher with a new basis on
which to criticize and dismiss the substantial claims of metaphysics that
Kant already attacked, claims which can now be dismissed as going
beyond not only any possible experience but also any possible sense.
Within the context of this usual way of viewing Wittgensteins critical
intentions, his appeal to practice can seem to have an essentially conser-
vative flavor. On the usual interpretation, the purpose of Wittgensteins
treatment of meaning as use is to remind us that a word only has signi-
ficance insofar as it functions within a well-defined and established
ordinary practice, one of the many unities of intersubjective speaking,
acting and accomplishing that Wittgenstein (so it is often supposed)
designates as language-games. This interpretation of Wittgenstein as a
conservative thinker has in fact prompted some philosophers to reject
Wittgensteins method outright.7 Alternatively, others have accepted and
celebrated what they see as the conservative implications of Wittgen-
steins appeal to use.8 Still others, along similar lines, take the supposed
uncriticizability of practices on Wittgensteins view to establish a rela-
tivism that denies the possibility of criticizing any practice or language-
game from any position external to it.9 For all of these interpretations,
however, Wittgensteins appeal to use has the significance of dismissing
nonsense on the basis of an identification of sense with the unity of a
practice. The accordance or non-accordance of a piece of language with
the standards or criteria established by an existing practice itself thought
of as, in principle, a bounded and demarcated unity determines the
extent to which it has sense. As the stable basis for the critical determi-
nation of sense, the unity of practices is itself, on this standard interpret-
ation, immune from criticism. The delimitation of the bounds of sense
and the identification of nonsense can only confirm and consolidate
existing practices, tracing their boundaries ever more securely, but never
challenging their underlying stability.
Despite the ubiquity of this usual reading, however, Wittgenstein can
be read differently. In particular, an alternative interpretation becomes
possible as soon as we see another way in which Wittgenstein inherits
the critical legacy of Kant. For Wittgenstein, I shall argue, does not invoke
use only, or primarily, to confirm the logic of existing practices by iden-
tifying their boundaries with the bounds of sense. For even though
Wittgensteins invocation of use calls upon us to remember the way
that the sense of a word is dependent on its usual employment, on the
surroundings of practice in which it ordinarily functions, Wittgenstein
also constantly and recurrently aims to challenge the assumption of any
stable theoretical delimitation of these surroundings.
As Alice Crary has argued, the standard interpretation of Wittgen-
steins project as drawing a stable critical line between sense and nonsense
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
itself results from the assumption that Wittgenstein formulates a use-
theory of meaning according to which the place a bit of language has
in our lives the public techniques to which it is tied fixes or deter-
mines its meaning (2000: 119). As Crary argues, this standard way of
understanding Wittgensteins intention makes the assumption of a fixed
line, determinable in principle, between the kinds of use licensed by these
techniques and those outside their bounds more or less inevitable. This,
in turn, generates the entire debate between conservative interpreters
who see Wittgenstein as arguing for the inviolability of established prac-
tices and conventionalist or relativist interpreters who see him as estab-
lishing the contingency of any particular set of practices. Against this,
Crary urges that we should not see Wittgenstein as theorizing meanings
as fixed at all:
Wittgenstein hopes to expose as confused the idea that meanings might
somehow be fixed (whether independently of use or otherwise). There is,
he wants us to grasp, no such thing as a metaphysical vantage point which,
if we managed to occupy it, would disclose to us that meaning were fixed
in one way or another and would therefore enable us to bypass the (some-
times enormously difficult) task of trying to see whether or not a new
employment of a given expression preserves important connections with
other employments. His aim is to get us to relinquish the idea of such a
vantage point and, at the same time, to relinquish the idea that what we
imagine is to be seen from such a vantage point has some bearing on our
ability to submit practices to criticism. (2000: 138)
As Crary suggests, we can actually gain a new sense of the critical impli-
cations of Wittgensteins practice of linguistic reflection by seeing the way
in which it resists the idea of the fixity of meaning that underlies the most
usual way of understanding its critical implications.10 We can gain this
new sense, in particular, by seeing how Wittgenstein situates his reflec-
tion on meaning, from the beginning to the end of his philosophical
career, within the practices for which it provides terms of criticism. This
problematizes the usual understanding of the shape of Wittgensteins
inheritance of Kant according to which Wittgenstein would be
involved in the project of drawing a fixed, stable line between sense and
nonsense but also makes room for another way of understanding the
Kantian legacy of Wittgensteins method. If Wittgensteinian reflection
on meaning is not the drawing of a stable line of critique, but rather an
ever-renewed process of reflecting on sense from a position wholly within
the practices it criticizes, then one result of Wittgensteins method, like
Kants own critique of reason, is to call into question the totalizing view
that any such line can be drawn at all.
Wittgensteins first work, the Tractatus, already carries out a practice
of reflecting on meaning by reflecting on use, and enacts, at least
implicitly, a critique of the assumption of the totality of use. The preface
specifies the aim of the book as that of drawing a limit to thought, or
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
rather not to thought, but to the expression of thought . . . (1961: 3).
For Wittgenstein in the Tractatus, the critical line is not to be drawn
between two regions of practice that are independently identifiable; this
would involve thinking on both sides of the limit, which would be
impossible. Rather, like Kant in the Dialectic, Wittgenstein seeks to
draw the critical line from within the very practices that are thereby
delimited. It follows that the critical practice of the Tractatus will reject
metaphysics from within the very practices that also constitute it, stead-
fastly rejecting the goal of any theory of meaning that would delimit
these practices in a general or total way. And although it has most often
been read as advancing a representationalist picture theory of meaning,
the Tractatus already in fact theorizes meaning in terms of praxis, while
at the same time enacting a radical self-critique that undermines this
use-theory from within.
The theory takes shape in the remarks in section 3 that distinguish
between signs mere written or auditory marks and symbols, which
additionally have meaning. According to the theory of sense Wittgen-
stein expounds in section 3 of the Tractatus, we cannot understand the
meaning of a sign unless we see how it is used with a sense that is,
unless we understand its logico-syntactic employment in significant
contexts throughout the language (3.3263.327). Prior to our under-
standing how it is used in the language, according to Wittgenstein, a
sign is just a sign. Without a use, it is inert; any understanding of its
meaning will be shown by, and manifest in, a grasp of the set of contexts
and combinations, throughout the language, in which it can significantly
appear. With this grasp, the mere sign becomes what Wittgenstein calls
a symbol a sign with a sense. The symbol is the sign taken together
with an awareness of its significant uses, of the set of ways in which it
can be combined with other signs to form combinations that are them-
selves significant.
Read straightforwardly, therefore, the Tractatus theorizes the mean-
ingfulness of a sign as its use in significant contexts throughout the
language, and treats the meaning of a sign as clarified insofar as the total
set of its significant uses is clarified.11 It is, in fact, to ordinary languages
tendency to obscure the rules that Wittgenstein traces the typical sources
of philosophical error:
3.323 In everyday language it very frequently happens that the same
word has different modes of signification and so belongs to different
symbols or that two words that have different modes of signification are
employed in propositions in what is superficially the same way.
Thus the word is figures as the copula, as a sign for identity, and as an
expression for existence; exist figures as an intransitive verb like go, and
identical as an adjective; we speak of something, but also of somethings
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
(In the proposition, Green is green where the first word is the proper
name of a person and the last an adjective these words do not merely
have different meanings: they are different symbols.)
3.324 In this way the most fundamental confusions are easily produced
(the whole of philosophy is full of them).

In ordinary language, it is typical for one and the same sign to stand
for what are, in fact, two or more different uses; seduced by the surface
form of language, we are easily led by this to commit the error of taking
what are in fact two different symbols as the same one. Logical analysis,
introducing the real underlying rules of logical syntax that actually
govern the significant use of signs in the language, allows us to disam-
biguate the signs and clarify their actual uses. The endpoint of logical
analysis is a perspicuous notation that eliminates this potential for
confusion, by rigorously employing exactly one sign for each possible
mode of employment or use in the language.
This theory of the meaning of a word as consisting in the totality
of its uses supports, as well, the official Tractarian account of the orig-
ination of philosophical error. According to the Tractatus, the illusions
that lead us to philosophical inquiries typically arise from mistaking the
uses of words in ordinary language. Because ordinary language allows
one and the same sign to be used in various possible ways, we very often
misconstrue our signs or fail to give them any determinate use at all.
This happens, in particular, when we are tempted to use words outside
the normal contexts of their ordinary significance. Accordingly, Wittgen-
stein says that the correct method of philosophy would simply be to
critique this kind of mistake:
The correct method in philosophy would really be the following: to say
nothing except what can be said, i.e. propositions of natural science i.e.
something that has nothing to do with philosophy and then, whenever
someone else wanted to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to
him that he had failed to give a meaning to certain signs in his proposi-
tions. (6.53)

By reminding ourselves of the uses that we ourselves have given or

failed to give our signs, we correct the typical errors that lead to philo-
sophical speculation and purge our language of metaphysics. Criticism
of the misuse of words thereby becomes criticism of metaphysical illusion
itself: the philosophers insight into the correct use of words suffices both
to diagnose the sources of our tendency to use words beyond the bounds
of sense, and to eliminate these uses.
In the practice of philosophical criticism that the Tractatus recom-
mends, therefore, reflection about the correct or legitimate uses of signs
suffices to expose the errors of ordinary language and positive metaphysics
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
alike. In this way, the Tractatus already points toward the reflection on
use that is characteristic of the Investigations inquiry into meaning. But
it is significant that nowhere in the Tractatus does Wittgenstein suggest
that this reflection must involve explicitly stating or deriving the rules of
logical syntax that distinguish sense from nonsense. In fact, the sugges-
tion of the Tractatus as a whole is that any such statement must under-
mine itself, rendering the propositions that articulate it nonsensical:
My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who
understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has
used them as steps to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak,
throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)
He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright.

The remarks that frame the Tractatus suggest a pragmatic and performa-
tive dimension of its teaching that do not appear on the level of straight-
forward theory. Rather, as recent commentators like Diamond (1991)
have noted, they invite us to undertake a certain kind of elucidatory
self-criticism. According to Diamond, the point of the book is not to
show or reveal some metaphysical structure of the language and the
world, substantial in itself, that can be said or described; the point is,
rather, to dramatize the non-existence of any such structure by showing
that the attempt to describe it immediately results in nonsense.12 The
text invites us to see this by leading us to enter imaginatively into the
supposed theory of the world and language that it outlines, and then
showing us how, by the very lights of this theory itself, every proposi-
tion that attempts to express it must be nonsense. In this play of the
imagination constituted by our initial identification with, and then
forceful separation from, the position of the philosopher who takes the
sentences of the Tractatus to outline a substantial theory we come to
see the illusoriness of the perspective from which the propositions that
theoretical philosophy formulates can seem to have sense. We gain the
kind of solution that is seen in the vanishing of the problem vanish-
ing not in the sense of having been resolved or answered, but in the
sense that it has been revealed as not being a problem at all.
In particular, the frame remarks of the book the Preface and
the last two remarks show that Wittgensteins philosophical practice
stands in an ironic and critical relationship to the theoretical content
seemingly articulated by the rest of the text. These contents must be
accepted, but then eventually rejected when they are seen to undermine
themselves inevitably. In the particular case of the Tractatus use-theory
of meaning, attending to the frame remarks allows us to see how the
very same critical movement that draws the line between sense and
nonsense also serves to destabilize it. For if the Tractatus theory of
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
meaning articulates a line between the region of sense and that of
nonsense, the very propositions that seem to draw this line theoretically,
in general terms, must themselves stand on the side of nonsense. As
Wittgenstein shows, any positive, theoretical delimitation of the bounds
of sense would itself run afoul of those bounds. In this way, the Trac-
tatus implicitly criticizes, in its own practice of philosophical criticism,
the totalizing assumption of a stable boundary or limit enclosing the
totality of legitimate uses of any linguistic sign. By subjecting its own
propositions to the semantic test that they themselves define, the Trac-
tatus critique of nonsense becomes a critique of a certain picture of
totality, the philosophers picture of the use of a word as a clearly delim-
ited, rule-bound unity.
Thus, the practice of distinguishing sense from nonsense, rather than
depending on a stable theoretical boundary, becomes a constantly
renewed work of reasoning in concrete cases, without the assurance of
any criterion of meaningfulness exterior to this practice itself. As Ostrow
has argued, this compels us to recognize not only the inherent instabil-
ity of the critique of nonsense, but also the Tractatus ongoing engage-
ment with the metaphysics that it criticizes:
My contention . . . is that the Wittgensteinian view of the nature of his own
claims, of philosophy generally, is not expressible in some self-standing
formula, but is rather given entirely in and through the recognition of an
intrinsic instability in a particular kind of utterance; it is contained in the
seeing how our philosophical assertions change their character, how they
undermine their own initial presentation as straightforward truth claims
. . . In different terms, what this discussion helps to make evident is the
fundamentally dialectical nature of Wittgensteins thought in the Tractatus.
It brings to the fore the extent to which we are, at every juncture of the
book, engaged with the very metaphysics that is apparently being dispar-
aged. (2001: 12)
If Tractarian critique is self-critique, then it cannot result in any stable,
unified or totalizing demarcation of the bounds of sense. The reflection
on the uses of words that it calls upon us to undertake does not actually
aim at, or conclude in, the demarcation of a stable region of sense to
be distinguished from another region of nonsense. Instead, the idea of
such a stable demarcation is itself one of the pieces of metaphysics that
the Tractatus centrally aims to confront. The self-critical practice of
linguistic reflection problematizes, in its very critical movement, every
attempt to authorize such a line or introduce it theoretically by a
movement exterior to itself.
What, then, is the residue of the practical significance of the Trac-
tatus, once this radical self-critique is complete? As Hacker (2000) has
noted, one problem with Diamonds interpretation itself is that it can
seem to leave us with little at the end of the day: if the whole aim of
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
the Tractatus is to undermine its own propositions as nonsense, then
how can we be said to learn from the book? The Tractatus would seem,
on the resolute interpretation, to swallow its own tail, leaving nothing
behind that a reader could genuinely benefit from. But attention on the
role of use allows us to correct this impression. We saw that the Trac-
tatus suggests not only a theory of meaning as use but also a practice
of clarifying meaning by reflecting on use: and this practice can remain
even when the theory that introduces it is undermined by radical self-
critique. It is true that the practice of analysis can no longer aim toward
the stable endpoint of a theoretically comprehended, rule-bound totality
of use. Following the radical self-critique, we no longer have any reason
even to believe that the description of any such totality would be coherent.
But we can nevertheless take away from the Tractatus the possibility of
a self-directed critical practice of reflection. This practice works to eluci-
date the meanings of words by reminding us of the ways in which they
are typically used, and by demonstrating the ordinary tacit conventions
and norms of practice that govern them. But purged of the assumption
that this elucidation must result in the demonstration of a stable totality
of rules, this practice becomes as multiplicitous, fluid and varied as the
words and contexts of language itself. It becomes, in other words, the
practice of reflection on ordinary language that Wittgenstein would
increasingly specify following his return to philosophy in 1929, culmi-
nating with the Investigations.


I have argued that the Tractatus is already implicitly critical of the idea
that the use of a word can be understood as a systematic whole or a
delimited unity of practice. Though the official theory of the book may
seem to suggest just such a delimitation, its elucidatory practice criticizes
this totalizing assumption by exposing the way in which the assumption
of a totality of practice corresponding to any individual symbol under-
mines itself. In his writings during the 1930s and early 1940s, leading
up to the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein would make this
critique of the totality of practice explicit as he came to see, with more
and more clarity, the irreducible complexity of uses that characterizes
even the most straightforward words.
When Wittgenstein returned to philosophy in 1929, one of the first
substantial criticisms he made of the Tractatus theory of language was
already that the meaning of an elementary proposition depended not
only on its individual logical form, but on its relation to the whole
system of propositions in which it figured.13 Thus, the logical form of,
for instance, a proposition about color could not be captured wholly by
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
the atomistic system of the Tractatus, since it had this logical form
only against the backdrop of its systematic interconnections with the
whole structure of color-propositions in the language.14 A propositions
meaning, Wittgenstein began to think, is analogous to a position on a
yardstick: instead of comparing propositions singly with reality, we must
compare the entire system with reality. It follows from this that the act
of understanding a proposition must be considerably more complicated
than the Tractatus had suggested. If understanding a proposition requires
not only comparing it individually with reality, but also holding up to
reality the whole system of propositions in which it functions, then
understanding how to use a proposition means knowing how to use a
whole system of propositions. The use of a word, already implicitly
holistic in the Tractatus in referring to the whole set of contexts in which
a word can significantly figure, now becomes explicitly holistic. As
Wittgenstein recognizes, the comprehension of a proposition does not
rely simply upon the correspondence of its intrinsic form with the facts.
Instead, our ability to identify the logical form of any proposition depends
on our recognition of its place in a larger systematic whole. Understand-
ing any individual word means grasping its systematic interrelations in
use with a whole variety of other words in the language.
During the transitional period between the Tractatus and the
Investigations, therefore, Wittgenstein came to see that characterizing
the use of a word would require much more than simply understanding
its own intrinsic grammatical type or logical form. It would require a
description of the systematic interrelationships of the particular word
with other words throughout the language, and a systematic under-
standing of its possibilities of significant combination with other words
throughout the language. At the same time, though, Wittgenstein had
also begun to recognize other kinds of inherent complexity in the
comprehension of use. He began to see the uses of words to report,
question, command and speculate as being just as significant as the
descriptive uses he had privileged in the Tractatus. And he became
increasingly aware of the systematic interweaving of the uses of words
with their practical surroundings, of the integration of the use of words
with non-linguistic behavior and with material practices of handling
non-linguistic objects.
As he became increasingly aware of the inherent complexity of the
use of a word, Wittgenstein also became explicitly critical of the philo-
sophical tendency to assume that the meaning of a word must be an
object that is co-present with it in the mind of a user. In the first pages
of the Blue Book, he describes this tendency as arising especially from
one of the great sources of philosophical bewilderment, the tendency
to pose general questions such as What is meaning? and look for things
corresponding to the substantive terms that these questions involve. In
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
the particular case of the question about meaning, this tendency to look
for an object corresponding to the substantive leads us to think that there
must be certain definite mental processes bound up with the working
of language, processes through which alone language can function
(1958: 3). Impressed by the power of these processes, we tend to portray
them as occurring in a queer kind of medium, the mind and think of
this medium as bringing about effects that no material mechanism
could. What underlies this portrayal is a mistaken conception of the
proper object of our search:
The mistake we are liable to make could be expressed thus: We are looking
for the use of a sign, but we look for it as though it were an object co-
existing with the sign. (One of the reasons for this mistake is again that we
are looking for a thing corresponding to a substantive.)15

Asking after the meaning of a word on any particular occasion, we are

actually asking after its use, after the appropriateness or inappropriate-
ness of using it in this way, in this combination, at this time. But in asking
the general question What is meaning? we introduce the ungrounded
assumption that our everyday understanding of a word our ordinary
ability to use it correctly must depend on the presence of a substan-
tial object which explains this ability in each case. In challenging this
assumption, Wittgenstein seeks to re-direct the general philosophical
question of how we understand a word to immanent, particular reflec-
tion on how we use words in particular cases, while at the same time
challenging the belief that there is anything at all any object, system
or whole that can be called the use of a word overall.
For the later Wittgenstein, then, seeing the great variety and hetero-
geneity of the contexts in which we can significantly employ a word
means seeing the complexity of anything that we can understand as its
use. But recognizing this essential diversity and heterogeneity is also a
way of criticizing our own inclination to reduce it. For the late Wittgen-
stein, this inclination is one of the characteristic tendencies of philo-
sophy, and the one that the philosopher of language must most ardently
strive to avoid. According to Wittgenstein, when we try to understand
the essence of meaning and understanding, we are tempted to think of
the entire use of the word as something that must in some way be present
each time we understand it. And although there is a sense in which the
use of the word is present to my mind when I understand it (in the sense
that, if I understand it, I know how to use it), knowing the use in this
sense does not mean having the totality of the words uses present to
mind, not even in a shadowy or schematic way.16 To understand the
word is to know how to use it, and the understanding of a word is
manifest in the kinds of use one makes of it, in a diversity of contexts,
over time. But even while seeing this, there is a temptation to think that
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
to understand the use of the word is to grasp the totality of its use all
at once, in the moment of understanding; and accordingly that this
totality of use must be describable or capturable as a whole.
The opening sections of the Investigations develop Wittgensteins
invocation of use by reminding the reader of the diversity of uses of
words, of the various ways in which they function and bring about
results.17 The Augustinian picture of language with which the Investi-
gations begins is, itself, Wittgenstein argues, a characteristic result of
failing to see this diversity of function.18 Augustines mistake is like the
failure of someone who, seeing the visual uniformity of a printed script,
assumes that the uses and purposes of the words are as uniform and
similar as the script itself appears to be.19 Characteristic philosophical
errors for instance, the error of assuming that every sentence is a
proposition, or that every propositional sentence is the assertion of a
judgment themselves result from the same tendency to miss the great
multiplicity of different purposes of words in the language.20
Wittgensteins criticism, in the Investigations, of the explicit theor-
etical position of the Tractatus itself consists largely in reminding the
reader of the inherent complexity and heterogeneity of the uses of a
word.21 Missing this complexity, Wittgenstein argues, we are inclined
to think of the meaning of a word as something uniform that it carries
with it on each occasion of its use. In pursuing the philosophical question
about meaning, we become seduced by the appearance that the term or
proposition carries its significance with it like an aura, that this signifi-
cance accompanies it automatically into every kind of application.22
Insofar as the Tractatus sought to answer the general question of the
nature of meaning by introducing a general account of the logical form
of propositions and language, it too committed this characteristic error
of reducing the diversity and heterogeneity of uses of a word to a unity
co-present with it on each occasion. The search for an explanation of
meaning led to the assumption that there must be strict and clear rules
of the logical structure of propositions, somehow hidden in the medium
of the understanding.23 The assumption of an underlying logical struc-
ture of language thereby became an unshakable ideal, an assumption
of crystalline purity that dictates the form that the investigation must
subsequently take.24
Resisting this ideal, we see that what we call sentence and
language has not the formal unity that I imagined, but is the family of
structures more or less related to one another (1951: 108). Meaning-
ful language itself is not a region of praxis that can be delimited by the
introduction of any uniform theoretical standard or criterion. Instead,
it is a complex family of structures and concepts, interconnected in the
most various and diverse ways with the whole variety of material and
social practices that comprise a human life. Wittgensteins heuristic use
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
of the concepts of family resemblance and language games themselves
aim to remind us of this irreducible diversity. In each case, looking to
the use of a word reminding ourselves of how it is actually used
means also reminding ourselves that our understanding of this use is
no stable unity, no delimitable totality, but rather an essentially open
application of the word to ever-new and shifting contexts of significance.


We have seen that, in the opening sections of the Philosophical Investi-

gations, Wittgensteins investigation of use leads him repeatedly to crit-
icize the characteristic assumption of totality that presents the use of a
word as a theoretically definable whole. Another version of this assump-
tion, in fact, is the main critical target of the skein of interrelated
passages standardly described as the rule-following considerations. For
Wittgenstein, the metaphysical concept of a rule that he critiques in
these passages is itself a totalizing concept; its effect is to falsely delimit
and delineate the application of words, to foreclose and diminish the
heterogeneity and openness of the set of contexts and combinations in
which a word may have significant use. Wittgensteins internal critique
of the concept of a rule aims to disrupt this totalizing assumption,
removing its distorting influence on philosophical and ordinary praxis,
and restoring our sense of the radical openness of our language to new
situations and contexts.
According to Wittgenstein in the Investigations, one of the key sources
of the Tractatus positive picture of meaning was the assumption that if
anyone utters a sentence and means or understands it he is operating a
calculus according to definite rules (1951: 81). The Tractatus positive
appeal to rules of logical syntax underlying the use of language distorted
the actual form of linguistic practice, construing the variety and multi-
plicity of our uses of words as controlled by a uniform underlying system.
But this misunderstanding was, for Wittgenstein, just one case of a more
general and ubiquitous one that arises whenever we think of our linguis-
tic practices as constrained by rules that determine the correct and incor-
rect application of words in an infinite diversity of cases. Wittgensteins
account of the source of this error echoes his account in the Blue Book.
Seeing that reflection on meaning is reflection on use, we are tempted
to think that the whole use of the word must be, in some sense, present
in the mind on each occasion of its use.25 We then think of the rule itself
as a superlative item, somehow capable of determining an infinite number
of cases, despite being itself a finite item.
The thought that in a queer way, the use itself is in some sense
present to the mind on each instance of successful understanding is thus
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
the most characteristic source of what Wittgenstein calls the metaphysi-
cal picture of a rule. When we think of the entire use as underlying
and determining any specific instance of it, we are tempted to think of
it as captured by something the symbolic expression of a rule, or a
picture or image that itself determines each of an infinite number of
instances of application, that determines what is, in each of an infinite
number of cases, the right way to apply the word in question. Against
this metaphysical picture of the rule, Wittgenstein reminds us that any
finite, symbolic expression of a rule is capable of various interpretations.
No such expression suffices to determine or delimit, by itself, the infinite
number of cases in which a word is used correctly. When thought of in
this superlative way, the symbolic expression is really a mythological
description of the use of a rule (1951: 221). In order to remove the
mythology, we need to recall to mind the actual openness of the use of
a word in any case of its application. This allows us to see the actual
complexity and variety of the ways in which the correctness or incor-
rectness of the use of a word is determined in each particular case, a
complexity and variety that are shown concretely in our practices, but
cannot be reduced by any standard or principle that is thought to
operate in advance of them.26
Wittgensteins critique of rule-following therefore seeks to disrupt a
characteristic picture of the totality of the use of a word; but it also
targets a typical way of thinking about identity that tends to hold this
picture in place. This becomes evident at Philosophical Investigations
(21416), where Wittgenstein responds to an interlocutory suggestion
that an intuition must be needed, in each particular case of the develop-
ment of a series, to determine the correct way to go on. Characteristi-
cally, Wittgensteins response is a reductio of the interlocutors invocation
of intuition in this case:
214. If you have to have an intuition in order to develop the series 1 2
3 4 . . . you must also have one in order to develop the series 2 2 2 2 . . .
215. But isnt the same at least the same?
We seem to have an infallible paradigm of identity in the identity of a thing
with itself. I feel like saying: Here at any rate there cant be a variety of
interpretations. If you are seeing a thing you are seeing identity too.
Then are two things the same when they are what one thing is? And how
am I to apply what the one thing shews me to the case of two things?
216. A thing is identical with itself. There is no finer example of a
useless proposition, which yet is connected with a certain play of the
imagination. It is as if in imagination we put a thing into its own shape
and saw that it fitted.
This appeal to an intuition is one characteristic recourse of the meta-
physical picture of the rule. The interlocutor attempts to ground this
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
picture, ultimately, in what he thinks of as the self-identity of the rule,
its sameness to itself across the infinite set of its instances. If the meta-
physical picture of the rule were correct, indeed, a rule would be a finite
item that determines an infinite number of cases by repeating itself
identically in each of its instances of application. The selfsameness of
the rule, its abstract identity with itself, would provide the ultimate basis
for its uniform applicability across an infinite number of possible cases.
The application of rules would be thinkable only as the infinite repeti-
tion of a selfsame item, even across a great variety of cases and contexts.
In challenging the characteristic assumption of totality that leads to the
metaphysical picture of the rule, Wittgensteins critique also challenges
this assumption of self-identity. To recall to mind the essential diversity
and openness of practices is also to recall that their rules are not the
eternally selfsame, sublime entities that metaphysical thinking presents
them as being. In this way, the thinking that relies on the self-identity
of the rule to foreclose the essential diversity and heterogeneity of the
significant uses of language succumbs to immanent reflection on linguis-
tic praxis.

I have argued that a decisive element of Wittgensteins critical invocation

of use is his critique of the assumption of totality that would portray
the use of a word as a stable unity of practice. Insofar as Wittgensteins
method directs us to seek the meaning of a word by reflecting on praxis,
its aim is not to introduce any kind of unifying theory of linguistic prac-
tices, but rather to disrupt the assumption that any such unification is
possible at all. The assumption of totality that Wittgenstein criticizes is
a characteristic feature of philosophical attempts to theorize meaning
positively, including what may seem to be Wittgensteins own attempt
in the positive movement of the Tractatus. But the significance of
Wittgensteins critique of totality is by no means limited to its bearing
against specialized philosophical theories. Indeed, it is well known that
Wittgenstein thought of his philosophical work as relevant to the reso-
lution of cultural, political and social questions, even though it is not
always obvious how this relevance should be understood.
Many of Wittgensteins remarks in Culture and Value exhibit his
well-known pessimism about the idea of technological progress and his
lack of faith in the social and material practices of the modern world.
As is also well known, Wittgenstein was at least somewhat sympathetic
with Marxism, and his thinking in the Investigations may have been
significantly influenced by that of the Marxist economist Sraffa. But
beyond these personal and biographical connections, Wittgensteins
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
central philosophical texts also in fact exhibit a deep concern with the
metaphysical assumptions that often underlie contemporary institutions
and material practices.
In particular, Wittgenstein was undoubtedly well aware of the domi-
nance, in the 20th century, of a regime of thought that tends to assim-
ilate individual, concrete acts of reasoning and communication to a
unified field of abstract, formal logic. His own Tractatus was misread
most significantly by the Vienna Circle logical positivists as a contri-
bution to the theory of this field. And over the period of his interactions
with the circle, Wittgenstein became acutely critical of the motivations
of those who saw in logic the key to a new construction of the world.27
Wittgenstein was also, doubtless, aware of the way in which this regime
of thought supports dominant cultural practices of technology, system-
atization and calculation. Characteristically, these practices treat indi-
vidual actions as significant only insofar as they can be evaluated and
repeated from the standpoint of abstract rationality, which itself is
conceived as a system of universal rules.
Commentators have long speculated about the political implications
of Wittgensteins work, but it is only recently that a significant number
of interpreters have begun to see his practice of linguistic reflection as
supporting a practice of critique that is radical and potentially libera-
tory with respect to prevailing social practices and norms. McManus
(2003), for instance, has argued that Wittgensteins consideration of
prevailing practices of measurement and calculation, particularly in the
context of the philosophy of mathematics, can actually support a far-
ranging critique of our tendency to treat these numerical practices as
referring to substantial realities in themselves. Without such a critique,
McManus suggests, we tend to reify the relevant practices, giving them
an unquestioned and otherwise undeserved value. Similarly, Janik (2003)
suggests that one target of Wittgensteins critique of rule-following might
be the kinds of regularity that a certain conception of rule-following in
fact tends to produce in our political and social practices of legislation
and authority, and accordingly that Wittgenstein can be read as a critic
of some of these practices.
For these commentators, then, Wittgensteins critical reflection on
rules offers a position from which it becomes possible both to question
the assumptions of regularity and fixity that underlie typical practices
of calculation and legislation, and to criticize these practices themselves
on that basis. When, in particular, large sectors of social practice and
prevailing institutions become governed by deeply held assumptions of
regularity and uniformity, such a critical reflection on the sources of
these assumptions becomes particularly important. If the current analysis
is correct, in fact, these particular suggestions for the application of
Wittgensteinian critique are simply isolated examples of a much more
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
general and far-ranging critical method, bearing not only against partic-
ular practices of calculation, automation and legislation, but also against
the whole complex of deeply held metaphysical assumptions that make
these practices possible.
The Frankfurt Schools concept of reification offers other terms for
thinking about prevailing social practices and their foundation in total-
izing patterns of thought, including the identity-thinking that Adorno
criticizes in Negative Dialectics.28 The critique of these linked concepts,
in fact, targets not only particular instances of injurious or oppressive
practice, but the whole cultural style of an entire historical period. For
the early Frankfurt School, the critical examination of socially domi-
nant characterizations of reason and rationality provides a particularly
important critical index of such a style, one that Wittgenstein himself
occasionally characterizes as the spirit of modern, western civilization.
Wittgensteins own critique of the metaphysical concept of the rule
strongly resembles the Frankfurt Schools sustained criticism of the
regime of thought and practice that construes rationality as formal,
symbolic ratiocination. Against this regime, Wittgenstein, like Adorno
and Horkheimer, seeks to reinscribe in our thinking a disruptive sense
of the openness of everyday practices to novelty and difference, and of
the necessary failure of any attempt to enclose this difference within a
totality of theory or explanation. Beyond simply echoing the Frankfurt
Schools critique of reification, however, Wittgensteins self-reflexive
philosophical method also offers to give us the terms in which we can
formulate this critique as a linguistic one: that is, as a critique of assump-
tions and habits of thought that lie deeply concealed in language itself,
and that only linguistic self-reflection offers to remove.
In suggesting that we can read Wittgenstein as critical of the ideo-
logical support of prevailing social practices, I do not mean to suggest
that he himself thought of this kind of social critique as a prevailing,
or even an explicit, goal of his philosophical practice. It is true that
Wittgenstein says little about the social implications of his own work.
But as we have seen, this has not prevented commentators from inter-
preting the social and political implications of his view of language.
Indeed, it seems obviously appropriate to interrogate the critical conse-
quences of Wittgensteins practice, given the evident Kantian, critical
background of his project of reflection. What I have offered in this
article is an alternative interpretation of these consequences, one that
shows that Wittgenstein need not be construed as a social conservative
or as contributing to the dominance of entrenched conceptions of
reasoning and rationality. Instead, I have argued, we can read him as
offering new terms for the identification, diagnosis and interrogation of
the deep ideological foundations of these dominant and entrenched
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
If this is correct, then another benefit of the kind of reading I suggest
here is that it can begin to open, in a new way, reflection on the question
of the relationship of analytic philosophy to the larger historical contours
of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thought. In particular, it
begins to show how the characteristic analytic turn toward language
can yield a kind of critical thought that continues the Enlightenment
project of demystification, of identifying and criticizing the illusions of
metaphysics, while nevertheless resisting the reified and standardized
forms of rationality that have so often resulted from this project. For
most of its history, analytic philosophy has been perceived by its prac-
titioners and its opponents alike as a field of inquiry largely innocent of
historical and political thought, content to pursue its atemporal prob-
lematics with something like the self-containment and autonomy of the
physical sciences. But the interpretation of Wittgensteins practice of
linguistic reflection against the backdrop of its historical parallels offers
grounds to challenge this perception by revealing the significant politi-
cal implications of one of the most prominent of the many forms of
reflection on language that characterize analytic philosophy. This not
only points to new ways of situating the contested legacy of the tradition
and the enduring significance of its determinative turn toward language,
but also suggests within it vibrant new possibilities of liberation and

Department of Philosophy, Villanova University, Villanova, PA, USA


I would like to thank Brian Keith Axel for many helpful thoughts and sugges-
tions on the composition and revision of this paper.

1 Gebrauch or use in this sense ought to be distinguished from cognates

like Benutzung (employment), which Wittgenstein uses generally of occur-
rences of words in the speaking of a language, and Anwendung or appli-
cation, which Wittgenstein uses most often in reference to the use of a
word or a rule in a new case. Section 43 of the Philosophical Investigations,
the section that is most often cited to support the usual interpretation of
Wittgenstein as holding a use-theory of meaning, in fact turns in large
part on these distinctions, holding that for a large class of cases of the
employment [Benutzung] of the word meaning, this word, [i.e. meaning]
can be explained [erklaren] by saying that the meaning of a word is its
use [Gebrauch] in the language.
2 A 302/B 359.
3 A 305/B 361.
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
4 Thus the pure concepts of reason, now under consideration, are trans-
cendental ideas. They are concepts of pure reason, in that they view all
knowledge gained in experience as being determined through an absolute
totality of conditions. They are not arbitrarily invented; they are imposed
by the very nature of reason itself, and therefore stand in necessary relation
to the whole employment of understanding. Finally, they are transcendent
and overstep the limits of all experience; no object adequate to the tran-
scendental idea can ever be found within experience (A 327/B384).
5 A 323/B 379.
6 [Wittgensteins] philosophy was a critique of language very similar in scope
and purpose to Kants critique of thought. Like Kant, he believed that
philosophers often unwittingly stray beyond the limits into the kind of
specious nonsense that seems to express genuine thoughts but in fact does
not do so. He wanted to discover the exact location of the line dividing
sense from nonsense, so that people might realize when they had reached
it and stop. This is the negative side of his philosophy and it makes the
first, and usually the deepest, impression on his readers. But it also has
another, more positive side. His purpose was not merely to formulate
instructions which would save people from trying to say what cannot be
said in language, but also to succeed in understanding the structure of what
can be said. He believed that the only way to achieve this understanding
is to plot the limits, because the limits and the structure have a common
origin. The nature of language dictates both what you can and what you
cannot do with it (Pears, 1970: 23).
7 E.g. Gellner (1959). For an interesting commentary on the origin and
endurance of this line of response, see Uschanov (2002). Philosophers within
the tradition of critical theory have also often rejected Wittgensteins thought
as fundamentally conservative and apolitical; see, especially, Marcuse (1968).
8 See, for example, Nyiri (1982).
9 Thus, Winch (1958) argues on Wittgensteinian grounds against projects in
anthropology and social science that attempt to interrogate social practices
from without, holding that the only way appropriately to practice social
science is reflexively, from within the very practices that are investigated.
10 Along similar lines, Cerbone argues that we should resist the temptation
to interpret Wittgenstein as holding any view according to which our
form of life serves as a boundary, a set of constraints, in short a limit,
within which our concepts can be legitimately applied (2003: 44). The
thought that such limits could be described is itself, Cerbone argues, one
of Wittgensteins favored critical targets. Like Crary, Cerbone suggests that
the deepest object of Wittgensteins criticism is in fact the illusion of a
position outside our practices from which we could draw a stable line
between sense and nonsense.
11 See Livingston (2004).
12 Diamond (1991: 1556).
13 See, for example, Wittgenstein (1993).
14 Philosophical Remarks (1975: 10910).
15 Wittgenstein (1958: 5).
Livingston: Wittgenstein and Kant
16 It is as if we could grasp the whole use of the word in a flash. Like what
e.g.? Cant the use in a certain sense be grasped in a flash? And in
what sense can it not? The point is, that it is as if we could grasp it in
a flash in yet another and much more direct sense than that. But have
you a model for this? No. It is just that this expression suggests itself to
us. As the result of the crossing of different pictures (1951: 191).
17 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 11).
18 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 3, 4).
19 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 4).
20 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 13), Philosophical Investigations (1951:
21 It is interesting to compare the multiplicity of the tools in language and of
the ways they are used, the multiplicity of kinds of words and sentence,
with what logicians have said about the structure of language. (Including
the author of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus) (1951: 23).
22 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 117).
23 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 102).
24 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 103, 107).
25 When someone says the word cube to me, for example, I know what it
means. But can the whole use of the word come before my mind, when I
understand it in this way?
Well, but on the other hand isnt the meaning of the word also determined
by this use? And cant these ways of determining meaning conflict? Can
what we grasp in a flash accord with a use, fit or fail to fit it? And how
can what is present to us in an instant, what comes before our mind in an
instant, fit a use? (1951: 139).
26 Philosophical Investigations (1951: 201).
27 In 1930, Wittgenstein wrote in his foreword to the Philosophical Remarks
of his opposition to the spirit . . . which informs the vast stream of
European and American civilization in which all of us stand. That spirit,
he said, expresses itself in an onwards movement, in building ever larger
and more complicated structures. He probably had in mind, at least in
part, the Enlightenment rhetoric of Carnaps The Logical Structure of the
World, which had sought to show how the concepts of science could be
logically constructed from a basis of immediate, individual experiences.
28 Recently, some commentators have begun to explore the possibility of
reading Wittgenstein in a way that shows the relevance of his commentary
to Marxist critique. Andrews (2002), for instance, argues that Marxs
description of the origin of value in Capital can be read, in Wittgensteinian
terms, as a critical description of the language-game of value in bourgeois
society. Along similar lines, Rossi-Landi (2002) suggests that the forms of
philosophical language that Wittgenstein criticizes as language on a
holiday can be read, within a Marxist critical register, as alienated forms
of linguistic praxis. Pleasants (1999) argues on Wittgensteinian grounds
against the very idea of a critical social theory. As Pleasants argues,
Wittgenstein in fact submits the idea of a theory of social practice to
devastating critique. This significantly problematizes the kind of use that
Philosophy & Social Criticism 33 (6)
contemporary critical theorists for instance, Habermas (1987) have
sought to make of what they take to be Wittgensteins theory of language.
But it leaves open the possibility of an entirely critical, practical and non-
theoretical application of reflection on language to contemporary political
and social problems, a prospect that is much more reminiscent of the work
of Adorno, Horkheimer and other members of the early Frankfurt School.


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